Me and JK from TCSD drove out to Utah this weekend to attend the Endurance Corner Ironman St. George training camp. This was organized by Gordo Byrne, a super nice guy, fantastic athlete, top tier triathlon coach, and co-author of the handbook for long distance triathlon. This was possibly the single most important thing I've ever done to improve my training. The weekend basically consisted of workouts, followed by meals, followed by meetings. The meetings were not your typical "guy with a powerpoint talking at you" coaching lectures. These were more like support group round tables where we broke down our days work, and discussed nearly anything with the coaches. The coaches consisted of Chris and Marilyn McDonald, Kevin Purcell, and of course Gordo. As an age group athlete, it was a privilege to train and learn from some of the best in the world.
On to the camp itself, which started thursday night with our first meeting. It was very introductory and got us acquainted with the coaches and each other, and laid out the plan for the weekend. Friday the real work began. 6am breakfast, 7am meeting, and a short drive to the aquatic center for a 9am swim. This was an endurance swim - nothing intense, but a LOT of distance. When coach KP gave us the warm-up (1400 yards!) we all sort of looked at each other and smiled. I swam in the 1:40 per 100yd lane, which was sheparded by Marilyn. She was nursing a hamstring injury and swam with a pull buoy and without kicking. It was impressive to watch her hit the 1:30 target each and every time (giving us 10 seconds rest) like clockwork. We ended up doing 4700 yards that morning, though many of the group called it quits a little early. An afternoon of rest, then we hopped on the bikes for a optional "fun ride". The route was up Snow Canyon, which is not part of the IM course. It was about a 5 mile slightly uphill warmup followed by a 5 mile climb. It wasn't impossibly steep, but it really got me a little nervous. I certainly couldn't do that for 112 miles! At the top of the hill Chris and Marilyn did a quick lecture on descending technique - which we used immediately to bomb down the hill. Chris (the course record holder at IM Wisconsin) was amazing to watch, he flew down the hill faster than anyone - not sure how he did it since gravity was pulling us all down the same! I brought up the rear, I'm still pretty squirrelly on descents. I can't tell if my bike is shimmying or if it's in my head - but I get real nervous these days at speeds above 35MPH. I used to hit 50MPH in my aerobars, but lately that's been too much for me. Anyway, after flying downhill for 10 miles it was out to dinner with the crew, and early to bed.
Saturday was the big day, 90 hilly miles on the bike course. The race course is lollipop shaped, with a 22 mile handle followed by two 45 mile loops around the "candy". We did the loop twice, but skipped the 22 mile prologue. It's basically uphill for 22 miles, but it's a false flat for most of the way. There are 3 or 4 spots that are steep enough to be out of the saddle, but mostly it's just a grind. The road is chip and seal, and it sucks. Not only is it bumpy and uncomfortable, but it also slows you down quite a bit - probably at least 1MPH. Also, you need to stay away from the edges of the road. There is gravel lining the sides that is the same color and consistency as the road, and there are no lines marking the edge. Stray too far over, and you've just sank your wheels into the gravel, and probably crashed. Once you reach the end of the last climb you are rewarded with - nothing. More flat for what seems like forever. Eventually the pavement returns to real blacktop, which is your indication that you've reached the downhill section. The downhill is screaming fast and straight - no switchbacks - and it's quite a nice respite. It doesn't last long though, and soon you're back to the loop start. For me, the first loop went surprisingly easily, and the second loop destroyed me. On top of that, the flat sections at the top of the course became windy as the day went on. Overall, this is a tough (but not impossibly so) bike course.
Sunday was 6am breakfast followed by a 13 mile run - one loop of the out and back marathon course. I am a weak runner, and was in the back from the start of the workout. The course starts out on a false flat, maybe 1 or 2 percent uphill grade. It then turns uphill and you climb for what seems like forever. Then you hit the 8% grade hills. Up and down. Repeat. It's mostly uphill during the first 6 miles, with plenty of up and down along the way. Then you turn around and do the same thing in reverse, which is brutal. You need to learn how to run downhill - I found it incredibly difficult, and was running very slowly even downhill once tired. The run course is extremely tough, and I expect almost everyone to have trouble with it - even the pros.
Here's what Chris had to say on his Twitter:
@Cobrada bike if wisco was a 8 St G would be 9 run if wisco was a 5 St G will be a 10 bike is challengeing run is hard about 9 hours ago from web in reply to Cobrada
I have raced IM wisco,france,placid,NZ,AUS,arizona,canada and many more and St george looks to be the toughest/slowest course so far 2:13 PM Nov 14th from web
great ride today on the St george course. that is one tough sun of a B!
He even went so far as to say that he would consider walking the steeper portions! Though, he also said he can walk at 10 min/mile pace.
Great experience learning the course, soaking up knowledge, and hanging out with some real Tri geeks. The course is scary, but I can't wait to race it! I'd recommend these training camps to anyone - but maybe not the Epic Camp!
The spirit of Ironman is about not quitting - at any speed, that is a lesson worth learning.
Gordo Byrne, from his blog 8/28/2009